Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jun 11

2-3 Jul (Sat & Sun): Biodiversity talks at the Botanic Gardens
from Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity!

More about Singapore's sea anemones: Dr Daphne's second public talk from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly Portraits - Long Banded Silverline
from Butterflies of Singapore

Changeable Lizard
from Monday Morgue

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Nature lovers push harder for Green Corridor

Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Jun 11;

NATURE and heritage groups have beefed up their original proposal to save the KTM railway land.

They point out that the land, comprising that on which the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station now sits and the north-to-south strip through which the rail tracks wind, links historic buildings and nature conservation areas. It could even become a Unesco World Heritage site, they add.

The KTM land reverts to Singapore tomorrow.

In their original proposal, green groups pushed for the 173.7ha strip of land on which rail tracks now run to be turned into a 'green corridor' for cycling, gardens and nature walks.

But corridor proponents now also call for calculations to be done on the true financial contribution which permanent green spaces make to property values.

The Straits Times understands that the proposal was discussed in a 1 1/2-hour closed-door meeting on Tuesday between nature groups and Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Parties at the talks described the discussion as 'positive'.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan, signalling his openness to the idea of a Green Corridor, had called the original proposal 'fascinating'.

He has personal memories of the pleasures of a walk along the railway near Mount Sinai while studying at the then Raffles Junior College there, and jogging along the track in Bukit Gombak, where the Ministry of Defence is located, he told The Straits Times in an e-mail two weeks ago.

The civic groups' strengthened proposal offered the following arguments for conserving the railway land:

Its natural heritage: The railway land links habitats ranging from mangroves to forests, and is home to rare birds, butterflies such as the Blue Glassy Tiger, and pangolins.

Its historic/cultural treasures: It connects heritage sites such as the old Ford factory and a World War II battle site near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Its commercial potential: Small structures such as rail crossings and tunnel crossings could be turned into rest areas, cafes and shops.

Responding to this suggestion, Dr Yeo Kang Shua, an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, commented that heritage trails and cafes may be great ideas, but policymakers will want to know whether they are sustainable in the long term.

The independent architectural conservator, who is involved in projects to save historic buildings, said: 'We may want to ask first, 'What's wrong with leaving it alone?'' He also questioned the heritage value of the railway tracks, since only the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as a national monument.

Its re-use for recreational and commuter cyclists: A cyclist pedalling at 20kmh from Bukit Panjang would get to the Central Business District in less than an hour, opening up a new commuting option. But transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said cycling and pedestrian walkways on the railway land are unlikely to help transport congestion.

The green corridor would more likely be used by recreational cyclists on weekends, he said, suggesting instead that a bus service run through the corridor to ease congestion on MRT lines.

Its ability to boost property values: Consultant Matthew Guenther noted that the value of the corridor could be estimated by the value of the six land parcels Singapore offered to Malaysia last September in exchange for the railway land - roughly $3 billion.

He said, however, the value Singaporeans would place on the corridor and other green spaces was unknown, and so should be worked out.

Global Property Strategic Alliance's chief executive Jeffrey Hong said green spaces offer landed homes 'exclusivity and privacy' and raise their values.

A final version of the green groups' proposal will be sent to government agencies in the next few weeks, said Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of the Nature Society of Singapore.

But civic society groups are sticking to their guns on one thing - that the land be preserved as a continuous tract.

Mr Leong said: 'The essence, the beauty of it lies in an unbroken countryside view. If you don't keep it now, I don't think you'll have the chance to in future.'

Additional reporting by Yen Feng

Train of thought

LAST year, civic groups sent government agencies a proposal to keep the KTM railway land as a continuous stretch of green space, arguing that it links various natural habitats and is home to rare birds and animals.

Now, they are about to submit a second version of their proposal. Key suggestions include:

Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations have been gazetted as national monument and building to be conserved; turn them into transport museums

Preserve rail crossings and turn them into rest areas, shops, cafes and facilities for hikers and cyclists

Provide pedestrian lanes and two-way cycling lanes

Turn railway tracks into tram lines

Plant community gardens for recreation and food, near residential areas and schools in places such as Clementi, Commonwealth and Bukit Panjang

Conduct a study to find out what factors most affect home prices in Singapore, and how nearby green spaces affect home values


Correction as emailed to me by Dr Yeo Kang Shua on 1 Jul 11:

Dear Ria,

It would be most appreciated if you could post a comment to the ST article that was posted in your wildsingaporenews website.

The published quote below that is attributed to me is edited to a point where readers may misinterpret my intentions.

“… He also questioned the heritage value of the railway tracks, since only the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as a national monument."

My original response to ST query is appended below:

"... Dr Yeo also raised questions about the heritage value of the Tanjong Pagar railway, since, only the building has been gazetted as a national monument. "What about the platform, the tracks? Without them, would the station be sufficiently representative of its past?"

I have emailed the ST for a correction.

Yeo Kang Shua

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Jane Goodall: Tending the shoots of hope

Cheong Suk-Wai Straits Times 30 Jun 11;

ON A recent flight, pioneering British primatologist Jane Goodall found herself seated next to a mother who told her how she had been kept awake by her five-year-old daughter fretting that a dripping tap in their house was wasting water.

Dr Goodall, 77, recalls: 'So Mum went to check and gosh, it was because of a broken washer, so she started stuffing things up it. But she was later woken up at 3am by her sobbing daughter. She had to go out with a torch to turn the water mains off before the child would sleep.'

It turned out that the girl belonged to Roots & Shoots, a youth movement which Dr Goodall founded in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1991. It promotes mindful and sustainable living, and today has 8,000 members in 128 countries.

This plucky woman made her name in Tanzania in the 1960s, as the first researcher to observe chimpanzees eating flesh and fashioning tools such as spoons from blades of grass to slurp up termites.

Up till then, scientists had thought that only humans knew how to make tools. In the late 1980s, she lobbied for the ethical treatment of animals. She went on to advocate sustainable living through her Jane Goodall Institutes in 27 countries, including Singapore.

The twice-married mother of one and grandmother of three arrived here over the weekend to grace a host of events - including a forum following the screening of last year's biopic Jane's Journey at the National Museum - and is in town until today. Over coffee on Sunday, she told me more about her life and calling:

Why did you agree to German film-maker Lorenz Knauer making your intensely personal biopic, Jane's Journey?
I met Lorenz about six years ago when he came to one of my lectures. There were many children there and he was watching the children watch me. And he'd never seen children so attentive at a lecture. So he wanted to find out who I was and what my secret was. He first had to persuade me to let him make the film because I get tired of these films, you know. National Geographic, Discovery Channel and even my first husband (Hugo van Lawick) had done them. Lorenz persuaded me because of the children bit... it's been very worthwhile but very hard work.

What was so hard about it?
Well, there were very tough interviews, especially those going back into my marriages, which nobody else had tackled before - or I hadn't let them do so!

Was it worth baring your soul that much?
I don't know. Somebody else will have to answer that. I just did it because Lorenz's vision for it seemed good.

What have you learnt from working with children, whom you say are your reason for hope?
That they gravitate to an understanding that they have to care for the environment, and they get very passionate about what we're doing that's bad for it. When they grow up, they have to get a job and they may be able to do so only in a company (whose indifference to sustainable living) they have been criticising. And so they say, 'there's nothing we can do'.

That's where the Roots & Shoots network, if it works, is going to support them and say: 'Look, you say ABC Fast Food is a bad company because it's harming the environment. Which it is. But that does not mean that everyone working in it is bad. In fact, maybe not one of them is bad. So don't give up your concern for the environment or animals. Work on the people around you and learn.'

And many young people cry when I tell them that; they say: 'That's the first time I've been able to live with myself.'

What works in getting others to live mindfully?
With governments, the key is getting Roots & Shoots into the education system so that it is an accepted part of the curriculum. With the kids, it's about getting them to choose what they want to do. But first, let them understand what's happening around them because they can't choose what to do if they don't know what to do. In a group of, say, 10 young people, at least one will be passionate about animals, another will be passionate about community service and there's usually a bunch that cares about the environment because, come on, it's fun to go and clean up, put up recycling bins and get all your schoolmates to do recycling!

When CNN was going to film one of our first projects in China at a big Beijing primary school and the plan was to clean up one of the stinking, filthy rivers there, some people said we'd never get Chinese children to pick garbage out of a river. Guess what? They were just as excited as could be to do so and the more disgusting it was - eeurgh! - the more eager they were to get at it to outdo each other, wooden tongs and plastic gloves and all.

There are hundreds of adults who've said to me: 'Of course I recycle now because the kids make me.'

When people tell me that a politician or businessman won't even listen to them and just puts blinkers on, I say: 'OK, find me the school to which his children go and I will start Roots & Shoots there!'

But what can you really change when the global economy relies on conspicuous consumption to keep everyone afloat?
I don't think we can have any hope unless we get Roots & Shoots and similar youth organisations to create a critical number of youth who understand the impossibility of this dream of unlimited economic development because in a world with finite resources, that isn't possible. We have to find a different kind of economy where a product is valued on its harm or benefit to nature. Every time we take something from nature, there's a cost. Most people would be horrified to know that when they eat something with palm oil from a plantation that replaced a tropical forest, that is killing orang utans.

Maybe I move in the wrong circles, but I can't think of anyone who would be horrified about losing orang utans.
That's because they don't understand them. If they went into a forest and had an orang utan with big eyes reach out to them, most of them would melt.

Would they? Hasn't progress sharpened man's mind but hardened his heart?
I've sat at the tables of chief executives of, say, petrochemical companies and in their homes. They love their children and yet can make business decisions that would release vast amounts of pesticides into the environment. It's like we've become schizophrenic. There are two sides to us: one is this economic growth and me-me-me. The other is something left of the heart. We have to join the two.

Where would you propose we begin?
I'm beginning with youth. They're infected with this way of living. They're not going to be perfect but they understand and they're helping others to understand.

Aren't they just rolling boulders uphill?
Yes, but more are rolling the boulders.

Did you start championing sustainability because you found championing chimpanzees just like rolling boulders uphill?
Nothing has changed. There's no point killing yourself to save chimpanzees, orang utans, dolphins or whatever if you're not raising new generations to be better stewards of the planet. Also, we're working with poor communities in Africa because if people are living around a wilderness area and are in absolute poverty, conservation efforts cannot work. You have to get the locals on your side and you can do that only if the poor creatures have a slightly better life!

Why do you persist in pursuing such difficult causes?
Because I'm flipping obstinate about the things I care about. You know that children's toy which, when you knock it down, springs back up again? Well, that's me.

She's glad animals can't talk

CALM, considered and very candid, primatologist and conservation activist Jane Goodall travels a total of 300 days a year to coax and cajole - but never coerce - people to live mindfully to save resource-stripped Earth. Here she is on:

Her first thoughts upon waking every morning
'Where am I? Do I have to give a lecture? Do I have a plane to catch?'

The punishing pace she sets herself
'When I'm in England writing and there's another lecture tour coming up, I hate it. I hate it until I get there.'

Why she doesn't believe in self-analysis
'Well, what's the point? I seem to be doing okay!'

What she would say to animals if they could talk back to her
'Well, I'm glad they can't talk back because otherwise they'd say to me, 'Get off the planet. Leave us alone. Let us get on with our lives.''

Singapore not having many areas of natural interest
'I don't know what I would turn out like if I could not play in a garden or be on a cliff.'

How to motivate those who don't care about the environment
'I get asked this everywhere and I don't know how to answer it. Most of these people have too much and so for them, life is fine, thank you very much.'

'I try not to do it. My colleagues say, 'We can't have Jane wearing the same clothes year after year.' And I say, 'What's wrong with that? If I like something, why shouldn't I go on wearing it?''

Her Roots & Shoots mantra
'Begin with knowledge and understanding. Move on to hard work and persistence, then love and compassion that leads to respect for all life.'


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Indonesia Must Brace for Haze: Expert

Dessy Sagita Jakarta Globe 29 Jun 11;

As the country transitions into the dry season, a weather expert has warned that choking haze from forest burn-offs could again pose a major problem.

“The peak of the dry season is from July to August, with high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds possibly worsening fires and haze,” Kukuh Ribudiyanto, head of extreme weather and early warning systems at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said on Wednesday.

Kukuh was referring to the large forest fires that usually happen every dry season, especially those set by farmers and plantations to clear land in preparation for the new planting season.

Although burn-offs are outlawed, enforcement has generally been weak. The resulting smoke from fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in the past led to haze blanketing the entire country, and even spilling across into neighboring countries’ skies.

Kukuh said hotspots — areas of high temperatures shown on satellite imaging that usually signify fires — had already been registered in some parts of Sumatra such as South Sumatra, Aceh and Riau.

“Luckily, we’ve still had rains throughout the transition period from the rainy to the dry season. The rains have helped to minimize the fires,” he said. “But now with decreasing rains, we have to be extra careful.”

Warih Puji Lestari, an analyst at the BMKG’s Riau branch, said the situation there was not yet causing much worries because the concentration of haze was not too thick and wind speeds were still within normal range.

“The wind has moved from five to 15 kilometers per hour, and the concentration of the smoke is relatively normal — not too thick,” she said.

Warih said there was still a possibility the haze could reach neighboring countries if the wind got any stronger.

“But if current conditions remain stable, the chances of the haze reaching Malaysia and Singapore are very slim,” she said.

People in Riau, however, still needed to be on alert because the province was set to experience hot weather over the next few days, she added.

According to the Washington-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, of the 31 hotspots recently recorded in Sumatra, 28 were located in Riau.

Last month, thick haze from forest fires in Riau caused some flights to be delayed across the province. The haze also reached Malaysia and Singapore, forcing people to stay indoors.

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Malaysia scientists tag Borneo saltwater crocodile

Greg Wood AFP Yahoo News 29 Jun 11;

Wildlife researchers in Malaysia are to track a saltwater crocodile by satellite, they said Wednesday, in a bid to find out why nearly 40 people have been attacked on Borneo island over a decade.

The wild saltwater crocodile was captured earlier this month on the Kinabatangan river in Sabah state and had a tag strapped around its neck before being released, said Benoit Goossens, head of the Danau Girang Field Centre.

The tag is already returning information to the scientists.

Officials said there have been 38 attacks by saltwater crocodiles -- the world's largest living reptile -- on humans in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak over the last 10 years, 23 of them fatal.

"The information gathered from the crocodile will help us better understand the movement of the male crocodiles," said Goossens.

"We are not saying that the information will help stop crocodile attacks.

"But it will help villagers and plantation workers better understand the behaviour of the crocodiles so that they are better able to avoid any confrontation with it."

The three-year project with the state wildlife department is believed to be a first for Southeast Asia, he added.

Land clearance and the creation of new plantations near the river may have caused the crocodile's food sources to decrease, leading to a rise in attacks, he said.

An increase in the crocodile population may also be responsible, and the various theories will be tested against the data gathered from the crocodile.

Last year, state wildlife officials said they were pushing to have saltwater crocodiles removed from a list of endangered species, saying the reptile's numbers have strongly recovered in recent years.

Saltwater crocodiles -- which can grow up to seven metres (23 feet) long -- have the most commercially valuable skin of all crocodiles and are found from Sri Lanka all the way to the Caroline Islands in the western Pacific.

Saltwater crocodile tagged in race to save species
The Star 30 Jun 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre have recently fitted a satellite tag on a saltwater crocodile in the Kinabatangan, in an effort to monitor its movements to ensure its further survival following the changing landscape emerging from plantations.

Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said the tagging of the four-metre long male crocodile - named 'Girang' - was the first in Borneo, and possibly in South-East Asia.

It was carried out in the vicinity of the Field Centre with the assistance of the department's Rescue Unit, he said in a joint statement here on Wednesday.

"Following the Human-Crocodile Conflict Conference that was held in Kota Kinabalu in June last year, the department expressed a desire to carry out scientific work on the primary cause for the rising levels of conflict being experienced in Sabah large rivers.

"The tagging of a saltwater crocodile with a satellite device, is the start of a long-term research and conservation programme initiated by our Department and the Danau Girang," added Ambu.

Danau Girang director Dr Benoit Goossens, who is also leader of the Kinabatangan Crocodile Programme, explained that plantations caused a considerable decrease in the overall amounts of prey available especially to large individuals.

"This situation makes for a far more dangerous environment. The realisation of this is that attack rates found near plantations are extremely high compared to those of forested areas.

"By tagging large crocodiles in plantation areas and in forested areas, and especially males which are potential man-heaters, we will try to understand and monitor the movements of these large predators," added Goossens.

It is hoped that the results would help in providing guidelines for plantation workers and local villagers in order to reduce fatal attacks and contribute to the protection of the species for ecosystem health and tourism, he concluded. - Bernama

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Malaysia: Concern over impact of development on Sabah wetlands

Conservation group voice concern over effects on ecosystem
Durie Rainer Fong The Star 30 Jun 11;

KOTA KINABALU: A group overseeing the conservation of wetlands in Sabah had voiced their concern to City Hall over a high-rise development project that could affect the ecosystem of a wetland here.

The Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society has made its opinion clear to new Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir about the proposed multi-storey condominium, to be located just 148m from the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre (KKWC).

The society also expressed its worries previously about the project potentially upsetting its plans to turn the 24ha mangrove forest of KKWC, declared a state Cultural Heritage Site in 1998, into a Ramsar site.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, called the Ramsar Convention, is an inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society president, Zainie Abdul Aucasa said he had underlined to the Mayor the importance to call a meeting between the stakeholders and developers to iron out the issue.

“We have to make clear to the developer that we are not against any development but we want to protect our wetlands.

“The Mayor was very impressed with our persistence and efforts to create public awareness on the importance of KKWC as a Ramsar site and to gain public support in protecting this sensitive area from the inevitable progress that is taking place in the surrounding area,” he said.

Apart from the Mayor, he said the society had also written letters to various government departments to stop the proposed condominium project from taking off.

“We also held meetings with the Environment Protection Department to discuss about the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed project,” Zainie said.

He said despite mitigation steps taken by the developers, the proposed project would still be harmful to the KKWC especially on the wetland’s ecosystem, which is home to various species of mangrove trees, birds and aquatic organisms.

Among the environmental issues, he said migrating birds might be thrown off from their flight paths because of high concrete buildings while construction works would also cause sediment run-off resulting in increased water turbidity in the KKWC.

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Warming, Overfishing, Plastic Pollution Destroying Ocean Life: Scientists

'If we don't do something quickly, the oceans in 50 years won't look like they do today,' scientist warns in an interview with SolveClimate News

Lisa Song, SolveClimate News Reuters 29 Jun 11:

The state of the oceans can best be likened to a case of multiple organ failure in urgent need of intervention, suggests the most comprehensive analysis yet of the world's marine ecosystems.

Global warming, overfishing and plastic pollution are wreaking havoc at an unprecedented rate on marine life, reported scientists at a recent meeting of the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).

The impacts of climate change — acidifying oceans, coral bleaching and habitat loss — are the biggest cause of decline in ocean health, and the hardest to solve, some researchers told SolveClimate News in interviews.

Global warming will "swamp everything," said Tony Pitcher, a professor of fisheries from the University of British Columbia who attended the meeting. "The effects are all around … If we don't do something quickly, the oceans in 50 years won't look like they do today."

The workshop brought together 27 scientists from six countries and represents the first time in at least a decade when experts from separate fields — geochemists, geophysicists, pollution experts, fishery biologists and climate change scientists — gathered to share their assessment of the oceans.

"These people don't usually talk to each other very much so getting them together ... was quite a special occasion," said Pitcher.

But the scene was far from celebratory. "In each kind of science, the experts were reporting that somewhere in the world the worst-case scenario was already present," he told SolveClimate News.

The Next Great Extinction

Climate scientists continue to report that atmospheric levels of CO2 are rising at an accelerated rate, spelling trouble for the oceans. Seas absorb the heat-trapping gas, which makes them more acidic.

Acidity of the world's oceans has increased 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution, said Bärbel Hönisch, a professor of earth science at Columbia University who did not attend the workshop. Ocean acidification stresses corals, shellfish and other organisms with effects that ripple through the marine food chain.

Adding to that ocean stress is overfishing, the IPSO assessment said. The large and long-lived species in fisheries worldwide — and in the South China Seas in particular — are "virtually fished out," Pitcher explained.

When added together, conditions may be ripe for the next great extinction similar to the five mass extinctions that have occurred throughout Earth history. "That was the comparison that was made," said Pitcher. "Certainly the rate of change in the chemistry of the oceans is greater than in some of the ancient extinctions."

Hönisch was more cautious. We won't wipe out ocean life, she predicted, but toxic algal blooms will thrive in the absence of large fish and other organisms threatened by extinction.

"The question for me has always been, do we care about the fish that are commercially interesting?" Hönisch asked. "Do we care about what we have today?"

The Climate Change Threat

Climate change is the oceans' greatest threat, said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries professor from the University of British Columbia who also attended the seminar.

As oceans heat up, there is less mixing of warm water near the sea surface and colder water near the bottom, he told SolveClimate News. That decreases the amount of available oxygen in the water column; less oxygen means less life overall.

Oxygen depletion, acidification and warmer temperatures are "a deadly mixture," Pauly said, and is almost certain to exacerbate other risks.

Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable, said Alex Rogers, lead author of the IPSO report and professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford.

Extreme Weather and Coral Bleaching

The underwater reef formations, often called the rainforests of the sea, are built by tiny animals called coral polyps that create limestone formations by constantly taking calcium carbonate out of the sea.

Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystems in the ocean housing millions of species, Rogers told SolveClimate News. They provide ecosystem services such as food, coastal protection, tourism and recreation that are worth up to $375 billion dollars per year, he said.

Corals live off the microscopic algae that dwell inside their tissues. Elevated water temperatures can cause coral bleaching, a whitening of corals that occurs when they expel algae. Corals eventually die, erode and collapse from continuous bleaching.

Charles Sheppard, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick and a workshop participant, said that an increase of 1 degree Celsius over about 10 weeks is enough to trigger bleaching.

"It's the extremes that do the killing," he explained. Average temperatures in the oceans have increased about half a degree Celsius since the 1970s, he said, but it's the weeks of extreme heat that kill off corals for good.

Corals must also live with increasing acidity.

As oceans become more acidic, corals have to spend more energy to deposit the limestone. "It's just a harder environment for them to live in," said Sheppard. "If you add that to temperature rise — which also adds stress — the two together is bad news."

Dying coral reefs don't just destroy ecosystems: Reefs protect coastlines by reducing storm surge and erosion.

Many of the atolls in Polynesia and Micronesia are made of corals, said Sheppard. In healthy corals, the growth of new limestone outpaces natural erosion of the coral. When the reefs die off, the islands will erode away.

"Corals are among the most threatened organisms on the planet," said Pitcher. Between the bleaching, overfishing, the dynamiting of coral reefs to kill fish and mining of coral for construction material, "corals will probably disappear from the planet in 40 years," he said. "It's kind of scary when you think that 200 million people depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods."

Poor countries that rely on fish as their main protein source — and which are expected to be hardest hit by climate change — are most at risk, said Rogers.

Developing nations in the tropics also face overfished seas, while surviving fish in these regions are moving to cooler waters as the climate warms.

Overfishing Easier to Solve

Compared to climate change, overfishing is relatively easy to solve, said Pitcher. Canada and the U.S. are among the better countries in terms of fisheries management. Both nations use quotas to limit their catch, but their management methods need to be improved, he said.

"Fisheries are about managing people rather than fish," said Pitcher. The UN has a voluntary code of conduct for responsible fisheries that takes into account aspects of sustainability. Fishers who use bottom trawlers, for instance, would score lower than those who use regular nets.

In addition, said Pitcher, most governments only survey the populations of fish that humans eat. "But fish live in a natural ecosystem," he said. "They eat things. and things eat them," adding that it's important to also monitor the health of non-marketable fish.

Pauly supports the expansion of marine reserves where fishing is banned. Only about 1 percent of the seas are protected, he said, versus 10 percent of continents in the form of national parks and other reserves.

"We accept that there must be [protected] parks on land. We don't conceive the need for that in the water. When [scientists] say we need 10 percent of the oceans protected, you get a howl from the fishing industry."

Most fish stocks live in "exclusive economic zones," said Pauly — designated areas for signatory countries of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that allow fishing and mining within 200 miles of their coastlines. These coastal areas make up 40 percent of the oceans.

Countries are reluctant to create marine reserves, largely because "we cannot wrap our minds around the oceans being fragile and inaccessible to us," he said. "The fishing industry isn't perceived as something that can change the structure of life in the ocean … Most people picture fishermen going out in small boats to brave the elements."

In reality, giant commercial trawlers are responsible for 40 to 60 percent of the world's catch. The scale and might of these trawlers compared to the fish is "like hunting rabbits with tanks," said Pauly.

"Fisheries' problems are relatively cheap to fix," said Pauly. But if we keep stalling, he warned: "It's going to be a problem that's not fixable."

Managing Plastic Pollution

Another relatively manageable problem is chemical pollution from plastics, said Pitcher, which aggravates the effects of other toxic pollutants.

Over time, pieces of plastic get ground down to microscopic particles and ingested by filter-feeding organisms such as clams, krill and some fish and sharks. Pitcher said this in itself isn't catastrophic, but endocrine disruptors like flame retardants stick to plastic and get eaten by the organisms. With time, those toxins make their way up the food chain.

We have a fair track record of restricting certain marine pollutants, said Pitcher.

One success story over the past 20 years is the reduction of anti-fouling paint layered on the bottom of ships to prevent barnacle growth. Once scientists realized the paint was releasing large amounts of lead into the water, many countries passed legislation to limit its use.

Even if marine plastic pollution is drastically reduced, it's impossible to reverse the ocean's deteriorating waters without curbing overfishing and the emissions that cause climate change, Sheppard said. "It's the combination which does so much harm."

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